Sister Sylvester / Ireland / 2023
Ghost Genes is a science-seance that uses embodied technology for a convening with the ghosts in our DNA, and in the history of genetics. It asks who creates the parameters of identities, and invites the listener to eavesdrop on the ghosts that haunt our genes.
Ghost Genes is a science-seance, an audio AR experience which uses the audience’s own bodily matter – their bones – as the site of a performance about the intimate reaches of contemporary genetics.
This project is part of a wider body of work called ‘Good Genes’ which looks at the emergent fields of biotech and synthetic biology, and creates ‘embodied performances,’ where the performances take place within the biological matter of the audience – in their intestines, their stomachs or their bones – in order to make visceral the stakes and implications of these new technologies for our identities, bodies, communities.
Ghost Genes uses bone conduction technology to create a custom-table and other objects that transmit audio only when they can conduct through a listener’s bones, creating a strange, intimate dialogue with the genes of a long-dead person, and with model organisms – drosophila, or fruit flies – from a genetics lab.
It’s a little ironic that the fruit fly has become a model organism, representing order, rationality, the genome as a code that can be understood. In early history, the fly represented something else: the Christians mocked the pagan god Baal – which means Lord – by calling him Baal Ze Bub – lord of the flies – lord of disorder, of shit. Flies were thought to be lesser organisms, created not by God, but arising spontaneously from dirt and rot. And now these symbols of collective chaos have become the workhorses of a new order, where everything has a meaning, and everything can be known.
Ghost Genes brings together these threads in an investigative narrative that holds court with the ghosts in our genes, the ghosts inside our heads, and the ghosts in the history of genetics.